The West Feliciana Parish School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to lift the salary schedule freeze, allowing all but about 40 school district employees to receive annual step increases.

School Board Administrator Ruthie Davis said there is enough money in the projected 2015-16 budget to cover the estimated $240,000 annual expense that unfreezing the raises will cost the School Board.

This is the second school year that system employees with 25 or fewer years have not received the annual step increases in their pay. Employees with more than 25 years with the system are not eligible for additional annual increases.

Unfreezing the salaries was identified as one of the top priorities at the School Board’s annual strategic planning retreat in March. Superintendent Hollis Milton previously said one parish supervisor is retiring, freeing roughly $100,000 a year, and the parish has been approved for a state LA4 grant, which provides funding for prekindergarten, for another $137,000 for the next fiscal year. Any remainder of the expense for the raises will be absorbed by the operating budget.

“We’re only as good as our people and the quality will stay there if we do this,” said Milton, who received a 34 percent pay increase with his new contract. He is being paid $158,000 a year under the new contract plus $9,600 a year for incidentals like mileage and phone.

“We want to show the employees that after a successful school year, we value them,” Milton said. “We have top-quality folks.”

As for those employees with 25 years or more experience, Milton told the board he is working with Davis to find a way to also provide them with additional pay.

“The people with 25 to 30 years are appreciated and add the same value,” Milton said. “We have to see how to do it, and we’re working toward that.”

Board member James White said he believes West Feliciana’s School Board members are among the lowest-paid in the state. Each elected member receives $350 per month, with the president of the panel earning an additional $50 per month.

“I’d like to see what other boards are getting,” White said.

Members Kelly O’Brien and Amanda McKinney were not enthusiastic about seeking a pay raise.

“Given the state of where we are, I’m not sure we should look at increasing our salaries,” McKinney said.

Board President Kevin Beauchamp noted: “I knew what the pay was when I ran for office.”

Board member Milton Coats suggested, “I don’t think any of us are serving for the money. But in fairness to his request, let’s do an analysis and see where we are.”

The board authorized Davis to study the issue and she agreed to provide the information at a future meeting.